Your lectern – the only thing between you and a crowd of potential critics.

They say that many people fear public speaking more than death itself. While I always considered that statistic to be a bit exaggerated, there is some truth behind the sentiment that public oration can be one of the most unnerving experiences that one may encounter. My college career involved an undergraduate curriculum in English literature followed by graduate school where I studied communication. Both subjects involved quite a bit of public speaking so I have had a great deal of experience talking to a large audience. However, no matter how many times I do it, I still experience jitters prior to getting up in front of a crowd.

Overcoming the Big “Choke”

Perhaps the most daunting part of public speaking is the sense of isolation that one can feel in front of a crowd. It is easy to envision the big “choke,” where you are unable to think of what to say or you aren’t getting the desired response from the things that you are saying. There are a number of tips that you may hear that are designed to quell the butterflies. One of the oldest tricks is to imagine your audience in their underwear. While I have never personally tried this, I imagine the idea is to transfer your own feelings of self-consciousness onto the objects of your anxiety. However, the one tip that I have found to be effective is to be as prepared as you possibly can. While being prepared with what you are going to say is important, you don’t want to simply recite your speech. You will appear more at ease if you seem to be speaking naturally. So, once you have your content thoroughly prepared, the only other thing that you have to be concerned with is your technical needs.

When you are speaking on stage the only thing between you and a crowd of potential critics is your lectern. Therefore, your speaking lectern can function as a kind of security blanket (or, in the worst case scenario, a place to take cover from audience projectiles). The more you speak in public the more you will come to understand what you want from a speaking lectern. As there are a great deal of varieties to choose from it is good to know what kind of features and lectern accessories that will best assist you.

What to Look for in a Lectern

In my personal experience the worst thing that can happen when giving a speech is encountering equipment failure in your audio-visual routine. Depending on where you are giving your speech you may have to depend on the house system. If you happen to be in the academic world it should be safe to assume that the equipment will be outdated (considering the priority that education is given when it comes to fiscal assignment). Therefore, if you are giving a speech at a location where the sound system may be questionable, you may want to consider bringing a lectern with built in amplification. These are my personal favorites without question. All you need to do with a lectern that has its own amplification is plug it in. The microphone is patched into a speaker that is part of the lectern’s body. However, lecterns with their own speakers have limitations. The speaker that can be contained within a lectern is limited in size due to the fact that it is contained within the body of the unit. Therefore, if you are speaking to a large auditorium you may not be able to produce enough amplification to project into a larger crowd. In this case you may have to use a PA system.

Public Address Systems

While most larger venues will be equipped with their own PA system, you may have to purchase or rent a PA system to amplify the speech from the podium area if you are outfitting your own venue. Remember, for the sake of public speaking it isn’t necessary to use a public address system that has extremely high fidelity. Many PAs are designed to amplify live musical performances. These will usually be more than you will need if you wish to outfit a speaking podium. In terms of power you will be able to fill most rooms with a 50 to 100 watt amplifier. Because you only need to project the signal from one line it isn’t necessary to add a great deal of gain even if you have a large crowd. However, there are a few PA accessories you may wish to consider. For instance, a speaker tripod will help to elevate the source of your sound. This is a relatively inexpensive way to increase your area of projection.

Also, you may find a situation where you need amplification in an outdoor venue. If you are far from a power source you may consider a PA system that is powered by batteries. There are a variety of self-contained PA units that are designed for this very thing. Moreover, it is possible to purchase these in a package that have the battery powered PA unit with portable battery charger. These can all be very helpful if you are in a situation where you must tour several outdoor venues as with a political rally.

Don’t Forget the Accessories

There are a few other lectern accessories that you may wish to employ. One thing that I have always found useful is the clip-on microphone and receiver. Your movement around the podium may become restricted when your microphone is attached to the lectern. For me, this is often problematic as I have found that animated movement really improves the impact of my delivery. Furthermore, if you are using visual aids such as PowerPoint, a clip-on microphone allows you to point to the screen or charts to help illustrate the multi-media aspects of your presentation. There are also goosenecked lights which can be attached to you lectern that are nice for providing overhead lighting to your notes. These are especially helpful if the room has been dimmed for the sake of your overhead projector. The last thing you want is to spend hours preparing speaking points and then not be able to see them.

Be Prepared

With all of these options to choose from it is important not to get carried away. While being prepared is the best way to overcome speech anxiety it is also possible to over prepare because of that same anxiety. In most of my experiences speaking to a group of 30 to 50 people it wasn’t even necessary to use a microphone. By training yourself to project well with volume you can also project a great deal of confidence in the same breath. In college, I always preferred a simple wooden lectern with an angled surface for my notes and an extra compartment for my reference material. I also liked a lectern that was just above waist high so that my body language was easily visible. Remember, 90 percent of communication is non-verbal. So, even if you are feeling nervous it is important to project confidence to your audience. That is why it is essential to have the right equipment and accessories at your podium. If you can eliminate even one possibility for embarrassment by having your technical bases covered then you will have one less thing to feel self-conscious about.